Bob Unruh joined WND in 2006 after nearly three decades with the Associated Press, as well as several Upper Midwest newspapers, where he covered everything from legislative battles and sports to tornadoes and homicidal survivalists. He is also a photographer whose scenic work has been used commercially.More ↓Less ↑
Americans are losing the right to know what their government is doing, charges a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, and it’s because of the federal court system.
The concern is being raised by Judicial Watch, the Washington-based corruption fighting organization that keeps an eye on the federal bureaucracy, legislature and judiciary.
“Make no mistake about it,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, “this is a landmark case that could determine whether President Obama, with the blind deference of the judicial branch, can unilaterally rewrite the Freedom of Information Act at the expense of the American people’s right to know what its government is up to.
“The idea that our government would put the sensibilities of terrorists above the rule of law ought to concern every American,” he said.
The dispute is over an estimated 50 photographs and video recordings taken of Osama bin Laden during and after the U.S. raid on the terror leader’s compound in Pakistan on May 1, 2011.
The federal government refused to release the images, and federal courts have backed the decision. Judicial Watch now has asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a review.
The government has argued that the images would anger America’s enemies, increasing the threat of attack.
Judicial Watch says the high court has been petitioned to review a 2013 appeals court ruling in the lawsuit, which seeks to force the Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency to release the information.
Judicial Watch argues: “The instant case is the poster child of the almost blind deference being provided to the executive branch” by the courts in recent years in cases involving the withholding of classified materials.
On May 4, 2011, the organization asked the Department of Defense for “all photographs and/or video recordings” of bin Laden taken during or after the military operation.
Another request was filed with the CIA.
When neither request generated a response, Judicial Watch went to court.
Eventually, Judge James Boasberg ruled that the images could remain secret, even though he admitted, “Indeed, it makes sense that the more significant an event is to our nation – and the end of bin Laden’s reign of terror certainly ranks high – the more need the public has for full disclosure.”
Fitton disagreed, stating at the time,: “The court’s interpretation would allow terrorists to dictate our laws. Americans’ fundamental right to access government information and, frankly, the First Amendment are implicated in this ruling. There is no provision of the Freedom of Information Act that allows documents to be kept secret because their release might offend our terrorist enemies.”
Specifically, Judicial Watch asks whether the exemption for the president to withhold information requires courts “to provide almost blind deference to the executive bbranch’s classification determinations or whether it mandates that courts conduct meaningful review of those determinations.”
Judicial Watch is arguing that the Freedom of Information Act actually is turning into a “withholding statute” and noted that when Congress wrote the law, it was crafted to allow only the withholding material that is “specifically authorized under criteria established by an executive order.”
The organization was alarmed by the court decisions that enforced the withholding of information.
The “court seems to suggest that the result of such violence and attacks [possibly triggered by the release of the photos and videos] is equivalent to exceptionally grave damage to national security. Prior to this ruling, no court had ever held that speculative, unspecific violence harms the national defense of the United States.”
Judicial Watch earlier filed a motion against the Department of the Navy, challenging the decision to withhold information relating to “descriptions of the actual funeral and burial of bin Laden.”
The Navy said the information could be used by U.S. enemies and also could incite Islamists to attack U.S. citizens.
But Judicial Watch said it “seeks only descriptions of the burial and funeral, and not any sensitive military information which could be used to thwart possible future military operation.”
Also, it said information cannot be withheld under guidelines from a recent court ruling that said simply saying the release would incite violence isn’t enough.
Questions about the bin Laden raid have been numerous. For example, a persistent critic of Obama claimed in a report that the president lied to the American public about the it, basing her allegations on evidence released by the U.S. government itself.
Critically important is one of the redacted military emails regarding the bin Laden death that references plans for a burial, dated April 29, 2011.
Under a subject line of “burial,” Samuel Perez, commander of Carrier Strike Group One, asked, “Do I need any special religious/ceremonial preparations?”
But it was on May 1, 2011, that Obama announced to the world that the mission “today” had killed bin Laden.
“Obama lied to every American and the rest of the world about the date of the alleged Osama bin Laden killing,” Barnett charged in the report. “According to a live speech … given to the country late night on May 1, 2011, Obama stated, ‘Today at my direction the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound … in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.’”
Barnett said the “emails in my possession received directly from the Department of Defense as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request for Osama bin Laden’s killing and burial related documents, reveal that the mission to allegedly ‘kill Osama’ occurred April 28, 2011, or earlier, not May 1, 2011, as Obama claimed.”